Family Stories

Good Old Media

Good morning, everyone!  It has been almost a month since I’ve published anything and am very anxious to get back to a regular schedule.  Crafting took center stage for a bit.  I had a booth at two craft shows in Chippewa County the last two weeks of the month.  Even though I had a good number of items for sale, all on my Etsy shop (www.etsy.com/shop/kykindredhandmade), I needed something fresh and different.  So spent the last two weeks making eyeglass cases, a bargello piece that I framed and Mother’s Day magnets.  The shows were great fun.  Met lots of fun people, made new connections with other vendors and learned much about having a booth!  Anyway, it is now time to return to genealogy research – for at least a while!

It seems that there are many auctions in Michigan, many of which have old photographs, books and even old Bibles.  I have won many of the photographs, a book of portraits and biographies from Clinton and Shiawassee Counties in Michigan, and an old family Bible with information dating back to 1819. 

In one of the packages of photographs were small, rectangular black pages from a photograph album.  Most of the photos are dated – 1918, 1919 – and first names are listed (no last names).  A large house appears in several of the photographs and one caption is “Good old Media, August 1918.”  Jefferson’s Rock, Harper’s Ferry, the Shenandoah River, Point of Rocks, Charles Town and Mt. Vernon are all listed on different photographs.  First names given are Julia and I, “Pum”, Frank, Bobbie, Val, Bernice, Perry, Bill, Marshall, Oscar, Happy, Uncle Fuller, Edith, Miss Anne.  A bit tricky having no surname to follow, but is that really a problem?

At first, I searched for a house named Media, but not much luck.  In the packet with the album pages were seven war ration books for a family named Paff located in Berks County, Pennsylvania.  I went to Google and put in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, which was 161 miles from Allentown, PA.  But, just seven miles away from Harpers Ferry was Charles Town.  We were getting close.  Perhaps the ration books had nothing to do with the photographs (but they are a story for another day).  Jefferson’s Rocks was in the area of Harpers Ferry.  Point of Rocks was 35 miles away.  Even Mount Vernon was only 72 miles from Harpers Ferry.  Then, finally, I found it.  Media Farm (not listed as house) was four miles north of Charles Town. 

I’m not sure who Edith is yet, but Miss Anne would be John W. Davis’ mother, Julia McDonald Davis’ grandmother.

It was a short Google click away that I found that Media Farm is on the National Register of Historic Places.  The house has been owned by the same family since 1780.  I thought this would be the Davis family since the article mentions John W. Davis, a politician and lawyer from Jefferson County, WV, and his daughter, Julia McDonald Davis, a well-known journalist and author.  But it was through John W.’s wife, Julia Terrill McDonald, that the property descended.  Her mother, Julia Yates Leavell, 1848-1921, was the daughter of William Thomas Leavell, 1813-1889, and Anne Yates, 1815-1857.  I haven’t found parents for Anne yet, but would say she is the daughter or granddaughter of the Charles Yates who purchased the property from Thomas Rutherford in 1780.

Julia McDonald Davis is probably the taller of the two since she would have been 18 in 1918.

The following is from Media Farm – Thompson, Kathleen.  “Media Farm.” Clio: Your Guide to History.  November 3, 2020.  www.theclio.com/entry/118482

The house at Media is done in a Gothic Revival style with yellow board and batten siding with scalloped bargeboard trim. The home was constructed in several addition; this is similar to other homes in Jefferson County that grew from small homes in the early settler period to manors and mansions by the nineteenth century. The original structure on the property was a two-story single pen (one room deep) log house that was used by the overseer of Walnut Grove, a neighboring farm. A single limestone wing was added in 1790 and around 1800 another two-story wing was added, and a second story was built onto the stone wing. Finally, a garage was added in the 1950s. All these various additions have been unified by the Gothic Revival exterior. In addition to the main house and several farm accessory structures, there are two tenant houses on the property. One of these was constructed during WWI to house “farmerettes” as part of a program that brought women from urban areas to farms to help farmers whose family members were not present due to the war.

Media Farm consisted of 1,000 acres and the two-story log house when Charles Yates purchased the property from Thomas Rutherford in 1780. It has been used as a farm consistently since then and has housed a school at times, such as in 1869 when Reverend William T. Leavell (married to Anne Yates who inherited the property from her father) established a school for the community’s children. Media Farm was also home to Jefferson County’s first golf course. In 1928 Marshall McDonald built a course across the front of the property hoping to attract urban tourists to the rural setting of the farm; this endeavor failed, largely due to the Great Depression.

The property is connected to two notable West Virginia figures: John W. Davis and his daughter, Julia McDonald Davis. John W. Davis was a prominent politician and lawyer from Jefferson County. He was elected to the WV House of Delegates, served as a US Congressman, and was solicitor general under Woodrow Wilson. Between 1918 and 1921, Davis was ambassador to the Court of St. James in Great Britain and was later awarded the Knight Commander of the Bath from Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. He was a presidential candidate in 1924 but lost the election to Calvin Coolidge. After his presidential run he headed a Wall Street law firm until his death in 1955. As a lawyer he is most known for his role defending South Carolina in the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case. Before his political career took off, John W. Davis met the McDonald family when they hired him to be a tutor for their children. He married Julia McDonald in 1899 and they had one daughter, Julia McDonald Davis. His wife died less than a month after their daughter was born; Davis later remarried but retained close connections to the McDonald family and Julia spent most summers with her maternal grandparents at Media Farm.

Julia M. Davis was a well-known journalist, writer, and playwright who spent much of her childhood summer with her grandparents at Media Farm. She was one of the first two women hired by the Associated Press as journalists in 1926. Her book Swords of the Vikings was nominated for a Newberry Award in 1928 and Cloud on the Land (1950) and The Sun Climbs Low (1940) are other recognized works. Her play “The Anvil” written for the Civil War centennial was produced off Broadway in 1962. In 1963 Davis was honored as West Virginia Daughter of the Year and Governor Gaston Caperton named her a Distinguished West Virginian in 1992. She died in January 1993.

Media Farm was owned by the same family from 1780 to at least 1994 when the property was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. However, online realty listings show that in 2018 the two tenant houses were separated from the main house and all three sold as individual residences. 

Julia McDonald Davis was born July 23, 1900, the daughter of John W. Davis and Julia Leavell McDonald, and was originally named for grandmother Anna Kennedy Davis, but when her mother died three weeks later she was renamed Julia McDonald Davis.

Julia lived, as she died, with great enthusiasm, dying January 30, 1993, on the dance floor, while dancing with Dr. Master, Ex-mayor of Charles Town, WV.

Isn’t it amazing what you can find from a few old photographs?! All photographs are from my purchase at the auction.

8 replies »

  1. I did a little roadway relocation design in Charles Town in 2002-2005. That was my first experience dealing with a historical town. It was amazing.

    I love your blogs.

  2. Hi,

    I sent you my information and what I am looking for. Would you have a chance to look at my email and see if you can help me?

    Thank you, Karen

    Karen Reynard Prather, CPM Treasurer,, Micajah Bullock DAR

  3. I enjoyed your old pictures . What beautiful old houses. We always has a fence at home. It kept the kids safe and the chickens out of the yard.

    I’m glad you are back.

  4. How interesting! I could’ve worked in Google for the rest of my life and not come up with that information!

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